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Institutionalizing Social Science Data Collection

Abstract: This project explored the potential for community-based data collection and analysis to help address the scarcity of social science data on the fishing industry and fishing communities. Community panels were established for: Beals Island/Jonesport, Maine; Portland, Maine; Gloucester, Massachusetts; the South Shore communities of Cohasset, Hingham, Hull, Marshfield, Plymouth, Sandwich, and Scituate, Massachusetts; New Bedford, Massachusetts; and Pt. Judith, Rhode Island. Each panel was comprised of 10 to 12 individuals, a cross section of harvesters, processors, shore-side businesses, and other members of the fishing communities. The groups identified issues of concern to their ports, and with the help of coordinators and the PIs, gathered data through interviews and focus group meetings, then drafted and reviewed reports. A major goal of the project was to provide management agencies with information about the potential impacts of regulatory changes on fishing communities so that adverse impacts could be mitigated. Another goal was to establish a community-based, participatory, and on-going research platform in each of the communities. The panels can be and have been reconvened for special topics. The coordinators of the panels were asked to report to town committees and boards to present summaries of the results. These opportunities have led to management decisions benefiting the fishing industry.

Executive Summary:

Community panels representing a cross-section of the commercial fishing industry in Beals Island/Jonesport, and Portland (Maine), Gloucester, New Bedford, and the Shore Shore (Massachusetts), and Pt. Judith (Rhode Island) used a variety of research methods to identify and analyze critical issues in their industry and communities. Early in the process, Panel Project participants expressed an interest in going beyond the collection of demographic data that could be applied to fishing community profiles used in social impact assessments. Each of the panels identified and inventoried essential infrastructure components for the sustainability of their ports. In addition, each panel focused on other, slightly different, issues of significance to their communities.

All port communities noted the importance of considering the cumulative impacts of regulatory change. Furthermore, they discussed what they perceived as impediments of achieving or retaining a positive quality of life, both at the individual and community level. While economics was an important component, social factors pertaining to such issues as sustainability, equity, and social cohesion were also acknowledged as significant. Embedded in their concerns was an interest in a more holistic approach to all aspects of fisheries management, business and life style.

The Portland Panel emphasized the impacts of regulations that have reduced traditional flexibility in the industry and forced the processing sector to seek more consistent supplies of fish (often frozen), but also catalogued the strengths of and constraints on each of the major fisheries in the port. In particular, the development of the first display auction on the East Coast, the Portland Fish Exchange; the lobster fishery and the Northern shrimp fishery have all helped sustain the industry.

Both the Point Judith and New Bedford Panels inventoried their city’s fishing industry infrastructure. However, both groups considered an analysis of the results of the yellowtail flounder Special Access Program (SAP) in 2004 essential to understanding the impacts of fisheries management.

The community panels began to develop their own “social capital” by creating networks among the participants that were based on a consensus of values, norms and trust. The panels also provided an avenue for building people’s capacities, especially by sharing information (education). This in turn facilitated the discussions that addressed topics that were regarded as critical to the subjective concerns, but also were relevant to realistic and effective management of fisheries.

The Community Panels proved to be effective and useful structures to collect and analyze social science information in response to grassroots driven needs and priorities. The project gained valuable experience in how such social science data collection and analysis can be institutionalized to inform fisheries and coastal zone management. Collaboration between social scientists, fishing industry participants and other community members was key to the success of the Panels. Specific results of the project are discussed in the reports for each of the six community panels.

Full Report (This is a large file; it may take a few minutes to open.)

 

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